Svitac began in Brčko as Firefly Youth Project in 1998 when British-born Ellie Maxwell founded us after the Bosnian conflict (1992-1995) ended. During the conflict, Ellie was an aid worker and through her experiences, came to believe that shared creative activities and contact with the outside world can play an important part in reducing tensions linked to sectarian violence.
After the war, the Dayton agreement divided Bosnia into regions separated by ethnicity—the Bosnian Federation and the Serbian Republic. However, the Brčko District was given special status with the UN remaining in control of a multi-ethnic local government. Despite attempts at “ethnic cleansing”, Brčko’s population remained a mix of Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats, a vestige of the old, multicultural Yugoslavia.
It was clear that Brčko’s mixed population provided a unique setting for reconciliatory youth work and the founding of Firefly was encouraged by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) as multi-ethnic youth work was considered an important part of the post-war reconstruction of Bosnian society.
The project began with just two international members of staff and was funded by students at Edinburgh University. Within two months, the first Bosnian staff members, Senka Blagojevic and Samir Muller joined. In 1998, the Firefly Youth Project began to run community strengthening creative arts and language workshops, events, and summer camps for the children of Brčko – all of which continue to this day. By 1999 our cultural exchange’s started to take place, with children from Mostar and Brčko taking part in music and drama camps on the Croatian coast, as well as our first Brčko festival (Brčkofest). In the same year the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) asked us to run its two centres in outlying areas of Brčko District.
There is a crying need for creative outlets for the youth of Brčko. Firefly’s programs fill as much of this need as they can, and are limited only by resources…I cannot overemphasise the respect that the local community and NGOs have for the work done by Firefly Youth Project’
U.S Ambassador Robert Farrand, Office of the High Representative, Bosnia
In 2003, the Firefly Youth Project became Svitac (Bosnian for “Firefly,” pronounced “Svee-tatz”) following registration as a local non-governmental organisation (NGO) under management in Brčko with Gordana Varcakovic as Director. Firefly’s operations in the UK simultaneously Firefly International and the two remain one another’s primary partners to this day, with Firefly International supporting our work through fundraising and overseas volunteer recruitment.
Sadly Ellie Maxwell passed away in 2009 at the young age of 32, but her work and vision lives on. In 2010, Firefly International generously supported us to purchase our own permanent space for activities christened “The Ellie Maxwell Youth Centre” in memory of our founder.
Volunteers have always played an important part in Svitac with international volunteers coming to Brčko for both short and long term projects, with local volunteers providing on-going support. In 2012 we began to send local volunteers overseas, giving young people from Brčko a rare opportunity to travel, volunteer overseas and learn from the experience of living in a different culture.
Since our establishment more than 15 years ago, Svitac has played an important part in strengthening the community of Brčko from the ground up. This would not have been possible without the hard work of our founders, staff and volunteers and the on-going generosity of our supporters. We continue to evolve, building stronger working relationships with local NGO’s and developing volunteer opportunities with a wide range of international partners. As we grow we hope to create new opportunities for international friendships and wider cross-cultural understanding.
We sincerely hope our work will continue long into the future, making a positive and long-lasting impact both locally and worldwide.